Saturday, 21 May 2016

On the Danube - the turning point

After another overnight journey that included passing through several locks, I'm not sure how many as I went in and out of sleep, we docked in the centre of Linz in the half light before dawn. At first sight it seemed as if we were moored outside a large industrial warehouse, dark and forbidding with an unusual shape. When the sun had risen properly, the building emerged from obscurity revealing dark grey cinder block walls clad with thick glass that was decorated with the name that gave the identity of the building. 

The writing was indeed on the wall, tens of thousands of times over 'LENTOSKUNSTMUSEUM' the city's new gallery of modern art. It had the countenance of a warehouse, because it is a place of cultural storage as much as display. It does what is says on the outside yet gives no idea of its real content. The building itself is a work of modern art, or, you might say, an artful modern work.

Last night before bed we decided that we didn't fancy a two hour coach journey each way to visit Salzburg, rated as Austria's most beautiful city. A few hours brief visit would be likley to afford more tiredness than satisfaction, so we decided to skip the tour and explore Linz instead. The view from the top deck was attractive enough, and it turned out to be a most enjoyable day, exploring the old town centre, with many fine sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings in great condition, plus some magnificent churches.

The 19th century composer Anton Bruckner was the city organist here, and composed liturgical works that were used in the churches. The astronomer Johannes Kepler worked here in the offices of the Land administration, and we found the house he lived in, quite near to the ship, in a side street. There's a 16th century Old Cathedral, plus a 19th century New Cathedral, said to be the largest church in Austria accommodating 20,000 people standing. It is indeed a fine Gothic revival building in contrast to the other baroque and renaissance churches of the city centre, indicative of the industrial wealth of the region, generated by heavy industy, downstrean. 

In the oldest quarter, an extensive international arts and crafts fair was going on, just this one day of the year, with much to attract the eye. In the main square, where the old 16th century Rathaus now serves amongst other things as a tourist centre, a huge Flohmarkt was being held, a giant outdoor jumble sale and bric a brac fair, where the vendors were as interesting and varied a crowd as a assortment of goods on sale. So much activity, so much to see. So glad we stayed.

On the way from the boat we looked into a Jesuit church and found that the Ember Day mass, for a congregation of over thirty,  had just reached the post Sanctus prayers. We stayed and prayed. I found it very moving to join in saying the Vater Unser, which I half remembered in German, having learned it at the time of our visits from Halesowen to Leipzig back in 1989. Such a blessed gift of a moment. The new Cathedral contained a memorial to the conscientious objector and martyr Franz Jagerstatter, beheaded by the Nazis for refusing to be drafted as a combatant in 1943. There was also a photo of his wife, who had only died at great age several years ago. Lovely that she was also being honoured in this way.

In the main entrance door, a wooden panel is set, dated 1936, testimony to the relationship of the established church to the regime of the time, compliant for the most part, despite the prophetic voice of martyr Franz Jagerstatter, not celebrated then as he is now. Underneath the plaque is a modern metal plaque stating the older one remains as a reminder of how things once were, adding that the 2006 Austrian Bishops conference had stared unequivocally that the church would not now endorse any totalitarian regime, but support only those who would govern by democratic and egalitarian values. Thank God for that. Lessons have been learned. All we have to do now is set our own house fully in order. A labour of Hercules.

After lunch on the ship, I walked across the Danube bridge out into the suburbs aiming to  find a way to the top of the hill overlooking Linz. I found a path which took me past a huge high school that had once been a boys seminary, and up through fields of long grass and woodland. I found a discreetly placed German military cemetery just in the woods, and starting beyond it, a Kreuzweg leading up the very steep hill, with stations of the cross built in pairs. Half way up in a clearing in the woods I found a well maintained shrine dedicated to St Hubert, patron saint of huntsmen. A few hundred metres short of the summit, I took the wrong choice of path, which led me around the contour, through an elite woodland housing estate to the point where it intersected with a tramway that runs from the town centre to the summit. Conscious of deadlines, I headed downhill rather than go to the summit. In any case I didn't have enough change for a ticket machine, which didn't accept notes or cards.

The walk down wasn't as steep, but much longer. I must have walked ten kilometres by the time I got back to the ship, tired and footsore, but I was most for the remarkable perspective of the city and its surrounding which my two and a half hour walk had afforded me.

As soon as a Salzberg trippers were all back on board, the boat left, a quarter of an hour early. It's a good 12-13 hour trip  downstream to Vienna overnight, with all those locks to negotiate!

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